The Best Word to Include on Your Résumé – and Some of the Worst

By Published on May 10, 2018

Job recruiters admit that they have already decided for or against a candidate after 60 seconds of reading a résumé. And they stop reading a résumé if the candidate writes in the third person, uses clichés, sounds too casual, or makes a grammatical error.

So, what can you do to catch their attention and keep it? How can you make them want to meet you and to put your résumé on the top of the stack?

The Top Word: “Accomplishments”

The one word that is the most important for your résumé, according to Susan Whitcomb in Résumé Magic, is the word “accomplishments.” You might have it on your résumé just once – or even not at all. But an outstanding résumé uses the idea of accomplishments very well.

Why is it so important? Because employers don’t want to hear general claims, like, I’m going to work harder than everyone else. The employer wonders, “When did you do that? What did you accomplish that proves that?” I have problem-solving skills. The employer asks, “What problems have you solved? How did you help a company?” I can help you make money. The employer wonders, “What specific level of revenue did you bring in? What percentage of your quota did you hit? By what percentage did you grow your territory?”

Hiring managers love accomplishments because they’re measurable, not vague. They point to a number, percentage, or size. They’re objective. They’re verifiable. Your potential employer can talk to a past employer and ask, “Did so-and-so actually hit that number?” “Yes.” “OK, that takes care of that.”

How Will the Hiring Manager Benefit?

Closely related is the word “benefit.” You might not write it on your résumé, but an outstanding résumé shows a hiring manager how you can improve his or her life. This is important because you’re not hired by a company; you’re hired by a specific human being sitting at a desk who wants to feel good about making the decision. He or she wants to feel confidence, a strong desire to hire you, and even excitement.

So, think about what good your hiring will do for that person and list the accomplishments that prove it. Rather than vague claims, this is about saying, “Because I know that you have this particular problem that you would like to solve through a hire, I’m showing you these accomplishments that are evidence that I will solve that problem for you. I’ll take the problem off your plate. You’ll be relaxed and have a better life because of that. That could happen soon. Would it make sense to meet and discuss this?”

How to Write an Accomplishment

To write an accomplishment, Whitcomb suggests you start each sentence with a strong action word, such as:

  • Sold
  • Developed
  • Created
  • Designed
  • Coordinated
  • Proposed

She also suggests you focus on showing how you will make one or more of the following happen for the company:

  • Make the company money
  • Save money
  • Save time
  • Make work easier
  • Solve a specific problem
  • Make the company more competitive
  • Build relationships with customers, vendors, and the public
  • Expand business
  • Attract customers
  • Retain existing customers

Words to Avoid

In a survey of HR professionals and résumé experts, found 21 words and terms to avoid. Here are the highlights:

  • Hard-working. Everyone is supposed to show up on time and work hard. That should be a given, so there’s no need to say it.
  • Microsoft® Office. Highlight skills that make you stand out for a role. Using Microsoft Office is no longer unusual.
  • Synergy, wheelhouse, rock star, results-oriented. All these words are overused and weak. These days, they mean very little and turn recruiters off.
  • Expert. Don’t say it unless you really are a recognized expert.
  • Responsible for. Instead of this, start a sentence with a powerful verb and talk about results.
  • She, he, him, her. Don’t write about yourself in the third person.

Writing a Story to Get an Offer from Google™

Author and entrepreneur Ramit Sethi explained his process for writing his first résumé after graduating from Stanford and starting to work.

Create a Character in a Story

His first realization was that he needed to make a story out of it; without that, a résumé is just a list of unrelated facts. Managers who have a stack of résumés to look through might spend only a few seconds on most of them, especially if there is no story or theme to them.

So, to catch their attention, Sethi decided to order his accomplishments in such a way as to make his résumé into a story about a unique character: a young man who was experienced in both tech entrepreneurship and psychology. That way, even if managers skimmed it for a few seconds, they would remember later, “Oh, that was the tech psychology guy.”

Cut Words and Phrases That Don’t Support the Story

Second, Sethi decided that every single word had to earn its place. A word or phrase only made the cut if it was part of telling this story and creating this character.

He wanted to avoid the curse of sameness, of writing the exact phrases everyone else used. He said that even the amount of years you attended college can be boring, because many people go to college for the same number of years. So it doesn’t have to be emphasized.

What should be emphasized is what you accomplished that was different than what masses of other people accomplished. Remember, you might often take for granted things about yourself that would actually be fascinating to certain other people. And those accomplishments can stand out only if you ruthlessly cut out any words or phrases that are not necessary, which can be getting in the way of the story you want to tell.

Usually, you should cut your résumé down to about one page in length. This is a short story, not a novel.

Show Numbers and Results

Finally, Sethi wrote accomplishments with numbers attached: he launched a website that went to tens of thousands of users, taught a one-hour course to 2,500 students, and had thousands of weekly readers on his website.

He said you should figure out how to attach numbers to your own experiences: I raised sales by 15%, I improved conversion rates by 30%, I improved the number of phone calls made by 14%.

What general statement on your résumé can you make specific by using a number? Instead of saying just what you did, can you write about the results you achieved?

And always think about what the reader might be thinking and what you want him or her to think. Sethi wrote, for example, Met and interviewed Fortune 500 CEOs, in case the reader was thinking he was too young and immature. This phrase conjures an image of a mature professional who can represent his employers by meeting with CEOs for them.

Job Offers from Top Firms

The result of all this is that Sethi received offers from several great companies, including Google and Intuit. He said that his résumé actually wasn’t pretty to look at, but it was full of accomplishments that told a story about a young but mature, insightful entrepreneur.

He stated that the reason people leave unimportant filler words and phrases in their résumé is because they haven’t picked a story to build. They don’t think about how they want to be remembered and how to stand out. So, once you decide what your story should be, craft every single word and accomplishment to support that story.